Stress test: High-wire Cavaliers still alive in NBA Finals

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Go ahead, back them into a corner. Call them names. Write them off.

The Cavaliers don’t care.

For the fourth time in two years, Cleveland fought off elimination in the NBA Finals by winning just when it appeared their season was over.

On Friday night, the Cavs turned anger over some comments made by Golden State’s motor-mouthed forward Draymond Green into energy and their best performance this season. They broke scoring records in a stunning 137-116 victory that shoved this “Three-match” between new-school rivals to the West Coast for Game 5 on Monday.

And while most teams would prefer not to live on the edge, the Cavaliers seem to thrive there. The only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, LeBron James and his buddies are basketball’s high-wire, high-risk act with no net to break their fall.

It’s dangerous, and not for the faint of heart.

“I don’t like it,” James said, drawing laughter after surpassing Magic Johnson in the record book with his ninth career Finals triple-double. “It causes too much stress, man. I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year. But listen, at the end of the day we just got some resilient guys.”

The Cavaliers are still alive and have a chance to do what no other team has ever done in the NBA playoffs – rally from a 3-0 deficit.

It’s been done on big stages in other sports, perhaps most famously by the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who strung together four wins over the New York Yankees to win the AL pennant on the way to their first World Series title since 1918.

But in the 126 instances where NBA teams have fallen behind 3-0, none have recovered to win the series. Zero. That’s 0-126.

Maybe these chaotic Cavs are just the team to do it.

Stack up the odds, Cleveland conquers them.

“We’re a resilient group, resilient team,” said Kevin Love, who made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored 23 points. “We have been in this situation before. Every year’s different, every playoff series, every game, but we just are a team that never count ourselves out.

“We feel like any game that we walk on the floor we have a great game plan and we expect to win. But we just continue to have that fire, continue to be resilient, but right now it’s just becoming one game at a time

“One quarter, each possession being huge for us, because that can make or break a team.”

But beyond their resiliency, the Cavs have displayed a mental toughness through all kinds of adversity. Over the past three years since James returned from Miami, the Cavs have handled injuries, constant scrutiny, drama – much of it self-inflicted- and even a midseason coaching change.

There doesn’t seem to be anything that rattles them, so it should be no surprise that on the verge of being swept by a Warriors team James called a “juggernaut” and “beast” before the Finals began, Cleveland dug down deep again.

Kyrie Irving knocked down seven of Cleveland’s 24 3-pointers – one of their three Finals scoring records – and had 40 points as the Cavs stopped Golden State’s 15-game postseason winning streak and lived to see another game.

The All-Star point guard, who made several Golden State defenders look silly with his darting moves, excels when things seem darkest. However, he can’t explain the defending champions’ ability to bounce back.

“Every game is do or die, and we understand that,” he said. “We’re ready to live in it.”

On Thursday, Green, whose suspension from last year’s Game 5 for hitting James in the groin helped swing the series to Cleveland, said he was looking forward to celebrating on Cleveland’s home floor for the second time in three years.

And while the comments didn’t come across as excessively brash given that they were from Green, Irving said the Cavs were offended and inspired by them.

“It’s part of the game,” Irving said. “But we knew what we were faced with. But then you add, of course, some chatter in there, and that adds some extra motivation. That taste wouldn’t have been the same if we would have lost tonight and they would have celebrated on our home floor. So I’ll just leave that at that.”

The Cavs were also well aware that in the final minutes of Game 3 that Stephen Curry stopped on the floor and squatted in what many perceived to be an insulting gesture.

The bottom line is that Cleveland has gotten these Finals to 3-1, a familiar situation that must give them a little comfort.

James, though, wouldn’t concede the Cavs have the Warriors right where they want them.

“No,” he said. “They got us where they want us. At the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourselves in position to play another game, and we did that and hopefully we can do it Monday night where we can come back here. So our mindset is try to go up there and get one.”

 

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR

In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.

Report: Clippers hiring ex-Cavaliers executive Trent Redden

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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The power dynamics within the Clippers are shifting, and the ground apparently hasn’t settled yet.

Doc Rivers has been stripped of his presidency. Jerry West became a consultant. Lawrence Frank now holds the most prestigious title in the front office, and newly hired Michael Winger will report to him. Also falling under Frank in the organizational chart? Trent Redden.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

Longtime Cleveland Cavaliers executive Trent Redden will join the LA Clippers’ front-office staff as assistant general manager, league sources said on Monday.

Redden was ousted in Cleveland with David Griffin. He’ll help the Clippers simply by providing another capable executive. They’ve long needed to add front-office employees (and pay for them).

But Redden also exacerbates the issue of Frank’s underlings having far more front-office experience than him. As the Clippers try to establish their new setup, we’ll see whether that creates complications.

Warriors’ Steve Kerr: I expect to coach all season and for many years ahead

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Warriors coach Steve Kerr has missed significant time the last two seasons due to complications from back surgery.

Could those issues derail his career?

Kerr, via Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I fully expect to coach all year,” Kerr says in a no-nonsense tone. “That’s my expectation. And for many years to come.”

On the most basic level, it’d be good if Kerr feels well enough to coach. The headaches sound miserable, regardless of his job.

But it’d also be ideal if the NBA didn’t lose one of its best coaches just as he’s getting started. The 51-year-old Kerr might wind up the greatest coach of all time. Obviously that’s a long way off, but he has that potential – health permitting.